Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuscany the beautiful

(click the photos to see a bigger view)

As we moved from the Cinque Terre into Tuscany we made sure to go via Sarzanna to see the castle. In a funny way Sarzanna Castle started us exploring Italy, after I saw a magnificent photo of it in the evening light. We couldn't recapture that but we did get some glimpses and a few photos.

Sarzanna Castle


This pretender to being a castle was over the road from the mighty Sarzanna fortress. It took Nick's fancy.

What is it about this part of Italy that gets me right in the gut, a really visceral reaction to the countryside? Don't know, but it happens every time. Tuscany is just so very beautiful. I find it a very organised landscape, the land is well tended, the soil is ploughed and cropped and always seems fruitful. We passed our old friend the Capella Vitaleta on our way into Pienza, surrounded by the turned earth almost ready for the last autumn crop.

Capella Vitaleta
We stayed just the one night in Pienza to experience the lovely Il Chiostro hotel and its restaurant with the view over the stunning Val d'Orcia. We were upgraded to a valley view room so we could look out and take in the view at any time. The restaurant was lovely but it was windy on the terrace and we had to move inside.

View from the window...nice!


Both the evening and morning light led to stunning photos of the country from our window, but also to some nice shots as we wandered the town.

Evening light

Morning shadows

Street scene, morning

Pienza Duomo

Cheese shop, Pienza is famous for its Pecorino cheese

We spent some time the next day searching for the famous cypress drive to photograph, and found it. However, I think our vantage point was probably not the best to get the whole sinuous road into the photo. Still very beautiful though.

Cypress road

We visited local towns such as Chuisi which has Etruscan remains and a truly lovely cathedral complex including a peaceful loggia,

Loggia, Chuisi

Interior Chuisi Duomo

and Castiglione del Largo on Lake Trasimeno with a triangular castle tower and a duomo with distinct Palladian architectural style, including an enormous pillared portico, incongruous in the narrow streets.

Triangular tower

Montepulciano was to be our home for the next four nights. The hotel was just inside the walls and had parking, a rather old fashioned place with a reading room and billiards table and rooms where the ensuites had obviously been added later. However, it was hard to fault the view from our room out over our private terrace, festooned with vines. Just lovely! I am getting addicted to rooms with views.

Our terrace and views

Montepulciano is a very steep town and it is a long way to the main piazza at the top where you find the Municipo and cathedral as well as some nice cafes and wine tasting rooms. There is a little bus but we only went up once.

Walls and rooves of Montepulciano

We attempted a visit to Mt Oliveto abbey but forgot to arrive early and it closed at midday. Set in very pretty countryside. We compensated by having a light lunch at the cafe and taking some photos.

Gateway to Mt Oliveto abbey

We visited St Antimo abbey near Montalcino the next day and actually got to go inside this time. Very peaceful with a high nave and a beautiful and ancient crucifix above the altar, similar to the Santa Volta in Lucca.

San Antimo Abbey

Nave and apse

11th Century crucifix

The countryside is given over to grapes which are grown cordon style, very neat and in flat rows with all the higher grapes pruned off so the grapes all hang at the bottoms of the vines in neat rows for harvesting. The Chianti grapes are deep blue.

Chianti grapes

Brunello vines

In Montalcino we tried one glass of the 2004 Brunello at a cafe, and the best bruschetta ever, thick Tuscan bread drizzled with green olive oil and ripe red chopped tomatoes and green olives, a few sprigs of basil, a few leaves of rocket. Sitting in the sun it all felt just perfect.


Olive terraces and Crete Senese country

That night we had a truly memorable meal at Le Logge del Vignola, one of those fine dining places that treat you so well with little extras like a welcoming glass of prosecco and a little cheese puff. We were amused by the really witty dessert, a Tuscan sigar, a rolled chocolate biscuit, filled with chocolate cream, blowing a puff of what we call fairy floss "smoke" and with a glass of rum on the side. It tasted great too.

Tuscan Sigar dessert

We also revisited Cortona and again had lunch on the loggia on the square where we lunched with my sister and husband three years ago and raised a glass to our mother, who has since died. It was a poignant reminder, around the time of her birthday, and I rang my sister while we were there.

Il Loggiato Restaurant, Cortona

As we left for Rome past San Quirico d'Orcia and across the Crete Senese I got a last, misty, morning photo of Capella Vitaleta. Tuscany is just beautiful and we don't tire of exploring it.

Capella Vitaletta, morning light


  1. Thank you so much for posting this amazing blog! I will be spending a week at a villa in Radda and your post has me wanting to find the wonderful places you documented.

    Thank you!

  2. beautiful post and photos! Looks like you really sought out, and found, some of the most "Tuscan" things to photograph - like the Capella Vitaletta which is in fact the image we chose for the official fan page of Tuscany on facebook. I write a blog about art in Tuscany for the Region (it's called Tuscany Arts) and scour the web for the best articles and happy travelers. Think I'll post this article on the fan page, hope you don't mind!
    ciao, Alexandra

  3. Thanks Alexandra. We keep returning and it is a loooong way to come.

  4. Thank you for posting your amazing photos


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